The first time I realized I wanted to be a veterinarian, I was in high school shadowing at the local vet clinic in rural southern Minnesota. I knew I loved medicine as my whole family was in the medical field, but I had a passion for animals and I wanted to combine those two interests. What I remember most is being intrigued that the veterinarians I was shadowing would be able to do a spay on a 10-pound cat in the morning and then drive to a farm an hour later and perform a C-section on a 1,200 pound cow. I loved that every day was something new and you never knew what would walk through the clinic doors or what you’d be getting into when a farmer called to come to his barn. The versatility and innovation of a mixed animal practice veterinarian in the rural Midwest was exactly what I wanted to do with my life and I made that my goal.
The last few months, I have had the opportunity to work with Dean Dan Grooms and another student, Kelsey Deaver, on a project looking into the shortage of veterinarians in rural Iowa. Across the United States, there is a shortage of veterinarians along with many other health professionals in rural areas. But why? There are so many answers to that question and that is why there is not one easy solution to this problem.
We could talk about the debt load that veterinary students are coming out of school with for hours, but at the end of the day, the salary is not their top priority. What most students are looking for in a first job is mentorship. Personally, I’m not looking for someone to hold my hand through every case but for someone to instill confidence in me when I have to perform that first enucleation on a dog by myself. I’m looking for a mentor who is a leader and has a great team of clinic staff who make coming to work more enjoyable. I want to find a practice that allows me to have a work-life balance and find a community where my future spouse can find a job. In the end, my debt and my salary are very important factors and we can blame the hours and weekends on-call but feeling supported by my colleagues and the community is what is going to make me stay. There are a lot of challenges that come along with being a “do-it-all” mixed animal vet but that is exactly what veterinary school trains us to do.
These and many other components might be what is driving professionals toward more urban areas but I also want to challenge students to open their minds to the idea of rural America. You might be surprised at what you find.